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CHOCTAW LUMBER COMPANY

Choctaw Lumber Company appeared in McCurtain County in 1906. The company's founders, brothers Hans and Herman Dierks, had been profitably engaged in retail lumber businesses in Iowa, Nebraska, and North Dakota from 1880 to 1895. The retail business named Dierks Brothers continued until 1895, when it expanded to become Dierks Coal and Lumber Company, headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska. Joined in management by brothers Peter and Henry, they continued to expand the Nebraska operations. In 1897 the company moved its headquarters to Kansas City, Missouri, and was incorporated in 1898.

Choctaw Coal Camp, 1889

Firmly established and prosperous, the brothers acquired a small planing mill in Petros, Indian Territory (near Heavener) and purchased a sawmill at DeQueen, Arkansas. In 1906 they came to the Choctaw Nation, named the Oklahoma branch of their operations the Choctaw Lumber Company, and began acquiring timber rights in northern McCurtain County. They also arranged with the Choctaws to mine coal in LeFlore and Pushmataha counties.

Choctaw Lumber Company began to search for a site on which to build not only a sawmill for processing the timber to which they had acquired legal title, but also on which to build an entire town around the mill. In 1909 a location was chosen about seven miles northeast of the railroad town of Valliant. The Dierks brothers arranged for a railroad, eventually called the Texas, Oklahoma and Eastern Railroad, to be constructed to the site. They named the company town Bismark (after Bismark North Dakota, not after Germany's Chancellor Otto von Bismarck as rumored) and began mill construction. The brothers devoted the Bismark (changed to Wright City in 1918) mill to producing southern pine lumber. The operation was almost completely mechanized, although mule teams were used for logging. Logs were delivered by rail, processed, and the lumber loaded back onto rail and shipped. The Dierks brothers established another pine mill and a hardwood mill in Broken Bow, also very much a company town in its early stages. The Wright City and Broken Bow mills together were capable of processing 250,000 feet of pine lumber and sixty thousand feet of hardwood lumber per day.

The railroads, company towns, and attendant prosperity of the Dierks brothers' enterprises played a significant role in developing McCurtain County's infrastructure, with agriculture also playing an influential role. In 1969 Weyerhaeuser Company of Tacoma, Washington, acquired Dierks Lumber and Coal Company. At the time, Dierks had control of about 1.8 million acres of timberland in Oklahoma and Arkansas.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century Weyerhaeuser continued forest management and forest product manufacturing as a prominent corporate presence in southeast Oklahoma. A Fortune 200 Company, Weyerhaeuser is the world's largest owner of merchantable softwood timber and producer of softwood and hardwood lumber. The corporation employed approximately fifteen hundred persons in McCurtain County.

SEE ALSO: ENVIRONMENT AND CULTURAL ECOLOGY, FOREST CONSERVATION, FORESTRY, FORESTRY CULTURE, MILL TOWNS.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Louis Coleman, ed., McCurtain County: A Pictorial History, Vol. 2 (Idabel, Okla.: McCurtain County Historical Society, 1999). Michael Howell and Tony Johnson, Oklahoma's Timber Industry: An Assessment of Timber Product Output and Use, 1996, USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station Resource Bulletin SRS-30 (Asheville, N. Car.: USDA Forest Service, 1998). Elbert L. Little, Forest Trees of Oklahoma (Rev. ed.; Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Forestry Services, 2000). Elbert L. Little, My Sixty-five Year Study of Progress in Managing Pine-oak Forests (Pinus echinata) in Southeastern Oklahoma: A Photographic Summary (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Forestry Services, 1997). James S. Rosson, Jr., Forest Resources of East Oklahoma, 1993, USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station Resource Bulletin SRS-58, (Asheville, N. Car.: USDA Forest Service, 2001). Laurence C. Walker, The Southern Forest, A Chronicle (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1991). Wright City Publication Committee (Ted Thompson, et al.), Wright City Oklahoma, 1910-1985 (Broken Bow, Okla.: Broken Bow News, 1985).

William G. Ross

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